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Talking to your children about legal highs and club drugs: A parent's handbook

This guidebook aims to provide practical, useful tips for parents wishing to talk to their children about legal highs and club drugs. A survey of young people conducted for the guide found that 58% of respondents’ friends had taken legal highs; 39% knew where to get them; and 45% had been offered them. It is therefore important that parents are equipped with the knowledge, information and communication skills to address this topic with their children.

Context: the resource sets out the definitions of legal highs, stating that they are psychoactive compounds often made in laboratories specifically for recreational use. Chemically speaking, they are often very similar to existing illicit drugs, so produce comparable effects whilst evading legal sanctions which are based on chemical composition. There are also ‘herbal highs’ derived from naturally existing substances like plants and herbs. Club drugs, it is explained, can be either legal or illegal, and are typically used in pubs and clubs and at parties.

The resource goes on to explain the history of legal highs and how they came to prominence: they are sold on the internet and in high street ‘head shops’, and their sale is kept legal through disclaimers that they are ‘not for human consumption’ or intended for other purposes, such as plant food or bath salts. The growing market in these substances led to legal changes by the Government, including a new Temporary Class Drug Order to sit alongside the existing ABC system.

The chapter know your substances provides information such as price, cost, legality, effects and risks on the most common substances: synthetic cannabinoids (which mimic the effects of cannabis), stimulants, ketamine, GBL and mephedrone.

Talking to children: Much of the guide focuses on practical information for parents on what they can do, and how to address these issues with their children. Points of advice include staying informed and not believing everything in the media; not using scare stories; acknowledging that young people can have enjoyable experiences with drugs as well as negative ones; being prepared for difficult questions such as why smoking or drinking is different; emphasising the potential impacts on health, education and work life; and, if the parents have used drugs in the past themselves and wish to discuss this, exploring the risks taken and any knowledge they have now that they didn’t in the past.

The guide also provides a sample script for parents to frame discussions around legal highs. It advises that parents choose a time carefully, when there is space for a relaxed conversation; don’t preach, antagonise or simply lay down rules; listen carefully to answers and don’t interrupt; let children know it’s ok to open up without being afraid of the consequences; base conversations on facts; tell children that care for their wellbeing is the reason for the conversation; act like a good role model; be willing to learn; set guidelines and boundaries, and make sure they are enforced; and speak to children’s friends’ parents about legal highs and discussions about them.